Driven by new medical research and innovative surgical treatments, device design and development was once almost exclusively handled by original equipment manufacturers. Over the last decade, however, there has been an increased emphasis on developing medical devices that can both produce better outcomes and reduce healthcare costs, according to a recent McKinsey report on medical technology outsourcing.1
This has led medical technology companies to reduce operating expenditure and increase flexibility by redesigning manufacturing and distribution networks. A key way they have achieved greater network flexibility is by forming relationships with contract manufacturing organizations and other partners to help them to handle fluctuations in demand, mitigate supply risks and grow faster. Network transformation also helps reduce costs and gives companies an opportunity to strategically rethink their operating model and become more competitive.
Growth of Medical Product Outsourcing
Medical product outsourcing is expected to grow twice as fast as the medical technology industry as a whole over the next few years. In fact, contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) have grown from $40.5 billion in 2015 to $61.8 billion in 2019; they are projected to grow 12.2% per year, hitting $87.3 billion by 2022, according to McKinsey.2 Overall, the global medical device outsourcing market size was valued at $94.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow at 10.5% a year until 2026, driven by increasing demand for medical devices combined with rising price competition and requirement to reduce cost.3
One popular innovation driving this growth, which also fits the imperative to improve outcomes and reduce costs, comes from the desire to make devices and implants smaller. For example, there is strong growth in minimally invasive implants and techniques, such as laparoscopic surgery and robotic surgery. This approach leads to faster patient recovery times, less scarring (smaller devices mean the incision can be smaller, too), shorter hospitalization, and a lower total cost of care.
New Stronger, More Flexible, Bio-Compatible Fiber
To develop smaller medical devices and minimally invasive techniques, medical device companies are searching for bio-materials that reduce the profile of devices without compromising strength, durability, flexibility, and bio-compatibility. This has led to the increased use of ultra-high polyethylene fiber, a material that performs better than alternatives such as steel, polyester, and nylon fibers. Known as Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber, this material is often used in smaller medical devices or implants.
In addition to greater strength and flexibility, the UHMWPE fiber is thinner, and has lower friction and a higher resistance to chemicals, fatigue, and abrasion, than do many alternative fibers. As an inert and hypoallergenic material, UHMWPE wire also avoids the health risks of alternative fibers, such as infection and pain caused by fibers disintegrating over time and entering a patient’s bloodstream.
For example, UHMWPE fiber is used to suture bones. First, it has the advantages of being strong enough to repair bone breaks or tendon and muscle repairs with little danger of breaking, which can present a health risk to the patient. Second, the fiber is softer and more flexible than other fibers, making it soft on surgeons’ hands (unlike steel, there are no sharp, jagged individual strands when it is cut) and enabling them to navigate sutures through narrower openings than steel cable allows.
The properties of UHMWPE fiber such as tissue ingrowth and shape memory also make it suitable for cardiovascular and neurovascular devices such as TAVR/TAVI devices and stent grafts. Woven or knitted textile structures made out of biomaterials such as UHMWPE are used to make porous implants that reduce infection and promote tissue growth.
Another use of the fiber is a catheter guidewire in cardiovascular procedures due to the fact it is a smaller, lighter, stronger, and more flexible alternative to steel wire. Textile structures made of UHMWPE have good shape-memory properties, which enable bending or folding during delivery through a tight space (cardiovascular or neurovascular applications such as catheters), followed by expansion once implanted in the body.
Yet another use is for the UHMWPE fiber is serving as an actuator mechanism in surgical robots, acting as the robot’s muscles and tendons while it performs minimally invasive procedures.
As the medical device industry evolves to smaller devices and implants, UHMWPE fiber will likely play a significant role in the development of new, effective and promising innovations that contribute to the growth of the medical device outsourcing market as well as the medical device market overall.
1 McKinsey & Co. Rethinking manufacturing and distribution networks in medtech. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/pharmaceuticals-and-medical-products/our-insights/rethinking-manufacturing-and-distribution-networks-in-medtech
2 McKinsey & Co. Rethinking manufacturing and distribution networks in medtech. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/pharmaceuticals-and-medical-products/our-insights/rethinking-manufacturing-and-distribution-networks-in-medtech
3 Grand View Research. Medical Device Outsourcing Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Services (Quality Assurance, Contract Manufacturing), By Therapeutic Area (Cardiology, General & Plastic Surgery), And Segment Forecasts, 2019 – 2026. March, 2019. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/medical-device-outsourcing-market
Abey Paul is the global business leader for Honeywell Spectra Medical Grade (MG) Fiber.